Here’s an interesting quote by William Walker Atkinson
“The term “Attention” is derived from the Latin term “attendere,” meaning “to stretch or bend forward”; the original implication being that in the act of Attention one’s mind was extended, stretched out, or bent toward the object of Attention, just as one needs or stretches his neck forward when he wishes to see or hear more effectively. When we “attend” to a thing, we turn our thought or mind toward it by a positive act of the will; in many cases we also make a positive effort to hold the thought or mind on the thing, after having extended it toward it.
And here let us consider an interesting and important point, namely: Attention is not an enlargement or increase in consciousness, but rather a narrowing, condensing, or limiting of consciousness. The act of Attention may be said to consist of three phases, viz.: (1) The earnest fixing of the mind upon some particular object; (2) the persistent holding of the mind upon that object; and (3) the determined shutting-out of the mind (for the time being) of the perception of any other objects struggling for conscious recognition and attention.
It is an axiom of psychology that the degree of concentration or Attention is proportionate to the smallness of the field upon which it is directed. That is to say, the smaller the number of objects that we “pay attention to” at any one time, the greater the degree of Attention such objects will receive. Conversely, the greater the number of such objects, the less the degree. Again, if we concentrate upon a single, simple thing, our perceptive impressions concerning it will be quite distinct, intense, vivid and clear. The increase of the number or degree of complexity of this object results in less clear, less distinct, less intense impressions— unless we attend to it in detail, by mentally breaking it up into small parts, which also proves the rule.
A leading psychologist has pointed out to his students a very important fact, and at the same time has given a very useful hint, when he says: “There is a constant struggle on the part of sensations to survive in consciousness. The sensation which we allow to take the most forcible hold on the Attention usually wins the day. If we sit by an open window in the country on a summer day, we may have many stimuli knocking at the gate of Attention: the ticking of a clock, the barking of dogs, the lowing of cows, the cries of children at play, the rustling of leaves, the songs of birds, the rumbling of wagons, etc. If Attention is centered upon any one of these, that one for the time being acquires the importance of a king upon the throne of our mental world. But none of these may sway our thoughts, for our Attention may be forcibly directed to some other object, which colors our conscious mental life. Hence it is of the utmost importance for our mental welfare to guard the gates of Attention. Some persons have the power of voluntary Attention developed in such slight degree, that it has been well said that they belong less to themselves than to any object that happens to strike their attention.”
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